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08-16-2002, 02:32 PM
IGN CUBE Reivew: Beach Spiker for GameCube

Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega AM2
Genre: Sports


Presentation: 6.0
Bland, sometimes unnecessary menus mix with lots of options and teams.

Graphics: 8.0
Crisp, clean and defined. Lots of different animations, pretty character models, lots of choices. Some camera and physics shortcomings.

Sound: 6.0
Solid sound effects. Poor music and announcers.

Gameplay: 8.0
Fun. Simple, but addictive play mechanics. Compelling character building mode. Ultimately lacks depth as a single-player game.

Lasting Appeal: 9.0
Fantastic multiplayer mode is somewhat of a volleyball godsend.

OVERALL SCORE (not an average) 8.2


Beach Spikers features several fun and addictive single-player options. There is, first off, a tutorial mode that teaches the basics of volleyball and the mechanics of two-on-two control within the game itself. There is an arcade mode, in which gamers can set up all of the specifics of a match and compete against computer opponents. And then there is World Tour, the meat and potatoes of the title for sure, which takes the team through a full season and pits them against other volleyball pros from all over the globe.

World Tour requires double strategies, both important; the first is to actually play, to learn the basics of control and use one's skills to win matches. The configuration of the mode requires that gamers manipulate one player and AI the other so the second part is to build the attributes of one's computer-controlled team member. In the beginning of World Tour, players will notice that their computer player is very poor. This is because her various attributes (serve, receive, attack, block, toss, power and response), are all at zero of a possible 20 points. The only way to build her attributes is to play through matches and earn points, which can then be assigned to the character according to player preference. It adds another level to the depth of the game and also encourages gamers to continue playing.

As points are added to the character's specific attributes, gamers will actually be able to see a noticeable difference reflected in her play abilities. For instance, as World Tour begins the computer athlete is practically useless, moving too slowly and lacking the foresight to run and snag balls, but once several points are added to her response category, gamers will see her reaction time improve greatly, and it has a strong bearing on the outcome of the matches. There are benefits and drawbacks to this design. The key benefit is that players are awarded with a tangible sense of satisfaction as they build and then watch their computer player grow in performance. The drawback, on the other hand, is that in the beginning the AI character is so bad that she makes it nearly impossible to win matches against other teams. This simulation aspect seems to scream in contradiction to the otherwise very arcade-like feel of the game. It's still a welcomed addition, but it takes some beginner getting used to.

In terms of pure gameplay, though, Beach Spikers follows Sega's traditional arcade formula. It's fast. It's fairly responsive. It's intuitive. But most of all it's simple. Players need only control one of the volleyball players, and this is done entirely with combinations of the analog stick, A and B buttons. Serving is balanced via a moving meter; when it gets to the top, players hit the A button and the character spikes it. The closer to the top the meter is when the A button is pressed, the more powerful the serve. Once the ball is in the air, meanwhile, circle graphs will show gamers where it's going to land after it's hit back to them. The idea is to position their character under the graph and hit either the A button to hit or toss, or A+B to jump serve, call for a two attack, or spike at a blocker's hands, or go for a two-return. It's not the deepest setup in the world, but it works triumphantly, and it's very addictive in a primal, Pong-like sort of way. It really is fun. Indeed, successfully keeping a volley going back and forth for a minute or more is hugely satisfying, particularly since it will often involve serious team work between players and their AI teammate. There are diving saves, power shots, well-timed blocks, massive spikes and more, and they all come off with a good measure of response and accuracy. It's proof that sometimes simpler is better. Our first time playing, we clocked almost five hours straight without realizing it.

But that's not to suggest that the setup is without its annoyances, or flaws. There are infrequent times when players will make a diving save, their computer character will follow-up and keep a volley alive, and then the circle graph indicating where a ball is supposed to land will just disappear making it impossible to keep the momentum alive. This is unfortunate, but thankfully it rarely happens. There is also the very occasional flaw in which the camera fails to shoot the action from the appropriate direction, and as a result players can't see their own characters until it's nearly too late to react to an oncoming ball. Thankfully both of these issues are so rare as to almost be nonexistent.

Really, the single-player mode is fun, if shallow, but if that's the only reason players find themselves interested in Beach Spikers, it might not prove to be the wisest purchase. If, however, gamers are looking for an excellent multiplayer title, Sega's volleyball entry is just about as fantastic as they come. In multiplayer mode, gamers can play against each other or in teams, even two-on-two, which is perfectly amazing. Keeping the ball in the air back and forth between four human players makes for some intense, fast-moving fun -- the kind of which is sure to rally cheers and shouts from all sides of the play field. It's about one of the most addictive multiplayer experiences to be enjoyed in recent GameCube offerings. Indeed, in Versus mode, those seeking a more compelling single-player experience can even set the configuration so that they can control both players on the field instead of one. The results are very challenging, full control battles against opponents.


Sega, in an attempt to extend replay value even further, has also included several additional modes, all of which can be accessed through the versus games. Beach Flags begins as the girls are laying out for a tan. The object is to rise and run back to nearby flag before the opponent can. This is a particularly shallow option that involves quick timing and lots of button mashing -- not our favorite, but we're glad it's there. More compelling are the Beach Countdown and Beach Point Kick modes. In Countdown, the girls volley a ticking bomb complete with its own bouncy, slow-motion-like set of physics. The goal is to make sure the opponent has the bomb when it explodes. It's a lot of fun. Finally, there is Point Kick, which works as the same function would in any soccer simulation game except instead of kicking the ball players must spike it. Again, not a terribly deep mode, but it's fun in short bursts.

Rounding everything off is a create-a-character option. Here players can pick the names and country background for their created volley queens, and then customize their faces, hair styles, sunglasses and bikinis (each with some 50 to 70 different options to start and dozens more unlockable), as well as hair color and body color. It's possible to create an army-clad beauty with hot-pink pigtails -- very classy, if players so desire. Similarly, one can dream up an afro-licious gem with glowing blue hair and a pair of silly mustache and nose sunglasses. Both must wear the same styled bikini, however, as it represents their team color. There are even unlockable characters, including a fully volleyball-ized version of dancing space reporter Ulala from the Space Channel 5 series. The fact that gamers cannot customize body type is disappointing, though; first, these are beautiful girls so of course everyone will want to have fun with that. More, with Team Ninja's Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball on the way to Xbox complete with bouncing breast physics and voluptuous players to boot, Sega might have been wise to allow for all of the customizations available in its game.


Closing Comments
Beach Spikers is a simple, decidedly unsophisticated volleyball game, but it also happens to be a lot of fun. The title has enough gameplay modes and options to keep all of us busy for a long time and the AI character building elements even longer. I've spent some 10 hours just building various characters up to their full potentials and had a great time doing it. But there's more to the game than just these areas; there are entire other modes to explore, from the Point Kick matches to the highly entertaining Beach Countdown, in which the volleyball becomes a ticking time bomb.

It's not a perfect game. There are some depth issues. There are times when the player should be able to hit the ball but can't simply because of design. There are also occasional camera problems. But as a multiplayer experience, it's hard to beat -- four human players will find this one of the most enjoyable, satisfying experiences to be had on GameCube. With very pretty visuals to boot, not to mention a create-a-character mode, there is a lot to explore here.

Recommended highly as an immensely enjoyable multiplayer game, and a fun, but shallow single-player one.

-- Matt Casamassina